Classic country fans seem to get awfully worked up when they hear a new song drop on the radio that doesn’t growl like Conway Twitter, inflect like George Jones, or wail like Hank Williams singing the blues. “Country music is dead and gone,” they shout! “In my day, country was real country.” Well, that’s all good and well, but all times change; nothing really remains the same. Ironically, this is why humans started recording music in the first place – it gave us a chance to listen to things how we like them, how we remember them. So for all those people claiming that country music has changed and today’s country music radio ain’t worth its weight in crushed RC-cola cans, we’d ask you to reconsider your position.
Ain’t nothing much about country music really changed but the timing.
The Death of the Outlaw
Most people up in their feelings over the “death” of country music are speaking specifically about outlaw country music. This was a genre—a period, more accurately—in country music where studio execs and the white-hats wanted to go one way with the promotion of country music, and the singer-songwriters wanted to go another.
Those execs probably felt pretty dumb a few years later, as the “outlaw” lineup was fierce and likely one of the best periods in country music history. The outlaw genre included:
- David Allan Coe
- Waylon Jennings
- Willie Nelson
- Kris Kristofferson
- Johnny Cash
- Johnny Paycheck
- And many more classic artists
Now, to be an “outlaw,” you didn’t have to shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. It was more about working independently. Singers and songwriters working with studios and production companies outside of the mainstream. And this produced a unique sound.
What’s our point? This is the sound most long for when they claim country music is dead and gone. However, this was never really mainstream country music. So, if one wants to complain that the outlaw era is over, there’s nothing anyone can do about that.
Today’s country music radio, while maybe not exactly brimming with Country Music Hall of Fame smash hits, still has the same sort of music that country has been famous for since Hank Williams put it on the map. Drinkin’, cheatin’, lovn’, longin’, losin’ – all of these themes are still 100% present in today’s hit country music.
Don’t believe us? We challenge you to do an experiment. Forget the fact that today’s music might eliminate the fiddle and the steel guitar on a lot of tracks. We get that. But go look at the lyrics to the songs side by side. You’ll find modern songs are written with every bit the lyrical passion and panache that yesteryear’s songs were famous for.
The only thing that’s really changed here is the timing. Songs are relatively shorter, and the rhythm is faster. Though when it comes to hit-at-your-heart country music lyrics, it’s still there.